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1999 Season Review

Sept. 30, 1999

Let's face it, Red Sox Nation, did we really think we'd be having this conversation?

When we woke up last Thanksgiving morning and dressed in black, saddened by the previous night's news of our star slugger's departure, our discussions around the dinner table weren't about who Jimy should pick for the postseason roster. They didn't center around playoff matchups or magic numbers. We wondered how, after last year's anemic offensive display in the postseason and now with no Mo, we'd ever win again.

Nomar hits one out As the season started, the team rolled off five wins in a row, but then the offensive holes caught up with them and they finished April 11-11. Nomar sat out a week with a strained hamstring. Flash spent time on the D.L. Trot finished the month hitting .061. It wasn't long before our season-opening starting catcher, closer, and second basemen each were lost for most of the season. Our Number 2 starter went to the bullpen. Our Number 4 starter quit and then came back. The rotation remained in shambles. Thirteen different players were used to start games. After Pedro, it was a parade of rookies, washed-up veterans, and reclamation projects. Seven different players picked up at least one save.

Yet somehow, they found a way to win. Here we are in the last week of the season, fresh from clinching a postseason berth. One more win in the next four games will match our win total from last year. How did we do it?

The obvious answer is one word: Pedro. His incredible 23-4 season included 312 strikeouts. His personal best entering the season was 14 strikeouts in a game - a total he surpassed six times this year. He had a streak of seven consecutive 10-K games this spring, and later added an eight-game streak. He walked only 37 batters all year, far and away the lowest total in history for a member of the 300-strikeout club. In this age of offense, his ERA is 2.08, less than half the league average.

Nomar deserves credit, too. With supposedly no protection in the lineup, fans worried he wouldn't see any good pitches. No matter, the star shortstop has simply walked more. But he also hit even better than before. He is in line to win the A.L. batting title, and was voted the starting shortstop in the All-Star Game. Despite missing several games to injuries, he has nearly duplicated his home run and RBI totals from last year, while raising his batting average 30 points.

Jason Varitek But it's been more than just our two marquee stars who have led the Red Sox to where they are today. It's the contributions by the other 23+ members of the team. Troy O'Leary, who typically fades in the second half, remained strong, knocking in 100 runs for the first time in his career, and leading the team in home runs. Trot Nixon recovered from a dismal start to raise his average to over .270, hit 15 home runs, and play solid defense. Tim Wakefield went from starter to closer to long relief and back to starter. His unpredictable knuckler closed out 14 games in 17 chances despite never having been used in that role before. Brian Daubach, released by the Mets when they believed he couldn't hit major league pitching, gave an offensive boost to the lineup, as he cracked 21 homers and had a week in August impressive enough for him to be named Player of the Week. Jason Varitek played in more games than just about any other catcher in the league. He calls a great game behind the plate, and has improved dramatically at the plate, even batting third in September. Jose Offerman, ridiculed in the offseason for his fielding and his contract, proved he was as good hitter hitter as advertised, leading the league in triples. As the season progressed, he improved in the field, too, and was named to the All-Star Game. Derek Lowe, Rich Garces, and Rheal Cormier have all been consistently stingy out of the bullpen. Wilton Veras stepped in twice when veteran third baseman John Valentin went on the D.L. Although Veras had never played above Double-A, he performed well in the field and at the plate - well enough for the Red Sox to include their other third base prospect in the trade for Rod Beck. Juan Pena pitched excellently, winning his first two starts before getting hurt. Then Brian Rose stepped in, beating the Yankees (twice) and Indians in his first three starts. Before tiring as the season wore on, he became a reliable second starter while Bret Saberhagen was injured. Sabes himself kept going out and pitching quality, gutsy games in between his three stints on the D.L., and nearly finished up with more wins than walks.

Jimy Williams What's been the one common factor that's kept this team together? Everyone's favorite quotationally-challenged Manager of the Year candidate, Jimy Williams. He has managed to put together a pitching staff depite injuries and ineffectiveness. He uses every player on the roster. He's not afraid to use a knuckleballer as a closer or sit down a tardy star. He has avoided controversy in potentially messy situations like Frye vs. Offerman at second or Valentin vs. Veras at third. His methods sometimes seem strange, such as benching a player a day after he goes 3-4 with a home run, but they all seem to work. He stuck with Trot Nixon when he struggled early, but wasn't afraid to bench Offerman when he thought the time off would help. Both were the right choice at the right time, as both players excelled later on. Whatever he's doing, it's working.

It's been quite a year! From Offerman's Opening Day 4-5 performance, to the three-game sweeps in Cleveland and New York, to Pedro's 17-K, one hit complete game over the Yankees, to Nomar's 10-RBI night against Seattle, to the wild card-clinching night in Chicago, there have been many memorable moments.

And now here we are, 158 games later, gripped by pennant fever - plotting postseason pitching matchups and dreaming of the day we finally win it all. It's been a special summer, but the ride's not over yet. Sit back and enjoy - the playoffs await!

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